It was much later when he got back, and Ted had gone.
‘He stayed as long as he could,’ Sarah said, ‘but he had to get back to the Sonnalpe. Where have you been, Tristan? You’re not…you’ve not been drinking?’
He had had a brandy, at one of the small wayside inns that lurked about this place, but only to take the taste of his stomach from his mouth - and he had had soup with it, for he had suddenly found that he was tremendously hungry, and had remembered that he had not eaten lunch, and that it was past dinner time. He sniffed. Burnt meat. She’d been waiting for him.
He looked down at her. Her eyes gleamed hope, while her mouth and forehead expected the worst.
‘I am sorry,’ he said, and this time, he meant it. ‘I am sorry - I was not drinking, but I was walking and I forgot the hour. You…should have eaten…’
‘How could I, not knowing where you were?’ she snapped back, exactly as he had expected, and her voice shrilled as she continued, ‘Honestly, I don’t know what’s got into you. I know you’re unhappy about Susie, I know you miss Evelyn, but to behave like this? So irresponsible! Do you know, Ted and I have been arguing this afternoon? And do you want to know what was the cause of it? You! Oh, Tristan, the trouble you’re causing! For goodness’ sake, we’ve all had broken hearts…’
She took a breath and controlled herself.
‘I don’t want any more of this,’ she said, and the years fell away as he found himself facing his mother. ‘I’ve had enough. I know that little piece has broken your heart, and I know you’re wretched over her, but the sooner you start controlling yourself, the better. All this…this drama, Tristan!’
‘I know,’ he said, and held up his hands, surrendering as he always did when Mother was speaking. ‘But I will cease, Sarah, I promise you. When school begins again, there will be much to do - I will not have time to…to brood. And Evelyn will return to us…’
‘I’m not having her if you’re going to continue to behave as you have been,’ Sarah said, and the threat slid chill down his throat and into his stomach.
‘Not have her back…?’
‘Not if you stay like this,’ said Sarah. ‘If you want her back, I need to be able to trust you.’
‘You can trust me.’
‘Then prove it. Act like a man, not a lovesick boy. Stop drinking, stop moping. Be normal. Behave yourself. Evelyn will be home…that is, she’ll be back in a week’s time, and I want her to come to a happy home, not a miserable one.’
‘I will change,’ he said. ‘I will change, Sarah, only - do not keep her from me! Not my girl…’
‘Well, then,’ said his sister, and he knew what he had to do.
It took a deep breath, and a very great deal of stomach, but he managed it. He smiled at her.
It was a poor smile, and he knew it did not reach as far as his eyes, but it was a smile nonetheless - and it must have worked, for she blinked and smiled back.
‘There!’ she said, and she put her hands on his arms and he managed not to flinch. ‘Oh!’ and she sighed with such a gusty relief that he thought he might have to catch her, ‘oh, I’ve not seen that for such a long time. Oh, Tristan, you devil! You worrisome, dreadful devil!’
And her arms were around his thin frame, and there was nothing he could do but embrace her back. Warm, smiling, loving Sarah…
they lurch towards him, ghastly faces
He blinked, and there was only a wall behind his sister.
Was she safe with him? Was Evelyn?
ghostly pale wraiths, blood-spattered
Was anybody safe?
He closed his eyes and the wraiths disappeared, and he held his sister, and he hoped and he prayed that she might stay safe, not matter what happened to him.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thank you for all the comments :) I'm glad so many people seem to understand the dynamics of this three-way relationship - nice to know I'm getting something right! ;)